My phone is buzzing. It is Sunday morning. Two days after returning from vacation. Four days before the college football season begins. Six days before my team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, kick things off. My wife is catching up on the DVR’d episodes of Drop Dead Diva that she missed while we were gone. I am scanning the room for heavy, blunt objects.
I open the phone and read my text. It’s from my friend (and brother-in-law) Jay. How do you feel about the Big and Rich song? He needs not explain himself further. He is talking about the intro song to ESPN College Gameday. Why else would ANYBODY listen to Big & Rich?
For the record, I respond that I love the song. It is cheesy. Over the top. Too much twang, But for whatever reason, it is the perfect song for its purpose. This song is what I look forward to every Saturday from September until the first week of December every year. Every Saturday, I dance and sing along with this intro. I don’t even voluntarily decide to do it anymore. It just happens. Every Saturday. Freaking love it.
But that is not the point. The point is that it is a week before football season begins, and Jay and myself are completely out of college football to discuss. The players have been broken down. The games have been circled. The record and bowl predictions have been made. We have been reduced to talking about the intro song for College Gameday. This isn’t a joke, either. We aren’t being ironically funny. We’re seriously giving measured opinions of a Big & Rich song about college football. This is all that is left.
It started after the Florida Gators dispatched the Oklahoma Sooners in the BCS National Championship last January. After Urban Meyer raised his second crystal football. After Tim Tebow knelt on the 50, unsheathed a sword, and canonized himself to become Sir Timothy of Jortland. After the last awkward interviews were stumbled through and the last remaining bit of glory was given to God, there it was. The beginning of eight long, cold months without college football. Every serious fan went into a deep and immediate depression.
How does someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes college football make it from January until Labor Day? We break it up. The immediate focus turns to recruiting. We all become suddenly infatuated with “the lifeblood of a program”. We scour websites like Rivals and Scout and bicker endlessly on message boards about our incoming class and its ranking. National Singing Day, or NSD, has actually become so important that people will take off from work to monitor any eleventh-hour surprises. Invariably, these guys chide their teenage daughter for obsessing over Miley Cyrus and shake their heads in disgust at the spectacle of such a young woman being so influential.
Next is spring practice. People actually show up to watch the first day of spring practice. Not only is it practice. Not only is it spring practice. It’s the FIRST DAY of spring practice. The players aren’t even wearing shoulder pads! This doesn’t matter. Dutiful members of the media, and more pathetically (and I use that term endearingly), uncompensated fans, show up and soak up every detail so that they may later disseminate it to the masses desperate for a fix. Talk radio is flooded with armchair experts. People actually make predictions on the record of their team based on no-contact offseason drills. The madness builds upon itself, roiling to a climax in…
The Spring Game. Remember when you were a kid and had soccer practice and mom and dad sat and watched in lawn chairs and you got a sundae from McDonald’s if you did good? Yeah, not the same. The Spring Game is a chance to knock the dust off the tailgating gear and watch some football! Nevermind that the team will have had less than a month of work, will be playing itself, and that the star players will be protected or even held out completely…it’s football! In April! Full band. Full pregame. Full television coverage. And full stadiums. Alabama has drawn over 90,000 before. The only thing missing is an opponent.
Depending on the fan, the next date to look forward to may be the most important of all. This is of course the traditional mid-summer release of EA Sport’s latest iteration of its NCAA Football video game series. Within the span of one generation, we have evolved from the amoeba-like blobs of Ten-Yard Fight to fully rendered, facial feature having football players at the whims of our thumbs. Stadiums appear true to form, rosters are accurate down to a player’s high school… even the correct situational cheers and chants are in there. Much easier than running to the computer and hitting play to hear your queued up fight song on Napster after that game-winning pick six against your roommate in college. Uh. Not that I was ever that geeky.
Finally, with summer winding down, the final push begins with Fall Camp. The incoming class, so urgently researched back in February, are reporting, and the internet is abuzz with descriptors of their physique and demeanor. Can they make an impact? Can they challenge the veterans for a starting position? Can they even survive two-a-days? These questions are answered and asked again daily through the last weeks of the doldrums. After crunching finite, unchanging statistics since January, our brains are reaching critical mass. We need new data to manipulate. So we scour the final scrimmage, extracting every last shred of information we can get out of it. The running back who will certainly redshirt gets his yards per carry calculated. The third string quarterback is assigned a QB Rating. We predict a big year for the little-known and lightly regarded flanker based on his two touchdowns in the second half against the scout defense. At this point, it feels like Arctic Summer. The closer we get to college football, the more the days seem to drag.
And here we are. It is four minutes before midnight on Wednesday, September 2. I just completed the final lineup revision of my college fantasy team, Beanie Weenies and Malt Liquor. Less than 24 hours from the beginning of the season. National Signing Day seems so far away now, and furthermore, it seems so irrelevant. I got that worked up over some high school kids? They are all redshirting this year anyway! The importance of seemingly everything over the past eight months fades as college football prepares to take its rightful place in the sports spotlight. Who’s playing tomorrow? Does it matter? Tomorrow my favorite time of the year begins, and I will celebrate it. Ass in seat. Wing in mouth. Beer in hand.